First off-it is NOT endurance-while it does involve horses and distance, it is most definitely in no way shape or form linked to endurance. The two sports are like apples and grapefruit-both round, delicious, and good for you, but not the same.
Let me explain:
Endurance: This is about the HORSE only. It is primarily a RACE to see who can get to the finish line first. There’s more to it than that-otherwise, there’d be a lot of dead or dying horses-and there have been in some of the early years. Things have changed-mostly-and the horses are better protected by the rules now. American Endurance Ride Conference is the governing body if you are interested in further exploration of the subject.
In some respects, it is simpler than competitive trail. I know some people that do ride both. They’ll train a horse first in competitive trail to get the miles and sound mind on them, then go for the speed. It does seem to make for a more ‘sane’ horse that will take care of himself (and you) on the trail.
I’ve never tried it so I don’t know. A good many people ride just to complete and get that completion ribbon. You don’t have to finish in any particular time frame-you can walk the entire way. (I think that’s the ‘turtle’ award?) JMHO-if you’re going to pay to get in-compete at some level. Don’t just trail ride. You could get out there any afternoon and do that. But that’s just me. What do I know?
Competitive Trail Riding (CTR)–There are several organizations out there, but the biggest one (and oldest, I think) is North American Trail Riders Conference. They all pretty much do things the same way with some variations on the theme. I’m most familiar with NATRC, so I’ll describe theirs. Just be aware that it is not the same all the time.
CTR is a sport that evaluates the horse and rider as a team. You ride a defined route each day at a certain pace so that EVERY horse is tested at approximately the same rate of exertion over the same obstacles by the same set of judges. Each team will be seen multiple times during each day. The rider is also judged at the same time. There are two DIFFERENT judges-vet for the horse and horsemanship for the rider. Two score cards are kept-one for each. A baseline exam/judging is done to start the event-the horse is examined for lameness, soreness, and to mark anything that might be marked off later if not identified at this point (little boo-boos or nicks). The rider is judged on presentation to the judges and handling of the horse during the exam.
During the course of the ride, the vet and horsemanship judges will use natural obstacles to further test the trail suitability of the horses. They will stop the ride at least twice to check pulse and respiration recoveries. The vet judge will check for lameness and tack checks for rubs, while the horsemanship judge may do things like judged off-side mounts, side passing over a log, backing up an incline, or pulling brush with a rope.
In camp, the horses will be kept in pretty much the same stabling conditions. Often this will be tied to the trailers, but can be high lines or stalls if provided. Individual corrals are not allowed as some will have them, but others won’t. It skews the results.
A final checkout exam is done shortly after the final miles are completed to assess the horses’ fitness to continue, lameness, etc. Again, the riders’ will be judged on presentation to the judges, grooming, etc. Then score cards will be tallied. Ribbons will be awarded by the vet judge on horse condition, while the horsemanship judge will award placement to the riders. COMBINED awards will go to those teams with the best overall scores.
There may also be breed awards depending on sponsorship and the ride. There are levels of competition-Novice, Competitive Pleasure, and Open with Junior classes for those 12-18 year olds. Horses must be a minimum of 4 years of age to compete. Stallions can compete-with special rules. No junior may ride a stallion. Any breed of horse, ass, or mule is eligible. Shoes, barefoot, or boots are permissible. Saddles must be used.
What do I like about CTR? The naturalness of it-the judges are out there WITH the horses and riders. There is no artificality about it. No bleachers, no microphones and loudspeakers, no sponsor banners, no glitzy outfits or special tack needed. It’s just you, your horse, and a bunch of like minded people camping out and having fun. Everybody does the same thing-we have the same goal-having fun, but with the safety of everyone in mind. If something does happen, I know for a fact that the competition will go to hell as everyone available will pitch in to help the person and/or horse in need. We’re one big family-even if we’ve never seen each other before.
You don’t find that at show rings. They get cutthroat-and they’ll actually hurt or sabotage another person’s horse or their tack. Doesn’t happen at NATRC. Or if it has, I’ve never heard of it.
Okay, so we’re a lot crazy about trail riding-both kinds of distance riding. But it’s a good kind of crazy.
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